By James Howe
Published On: 2001
Published by: Aladdin Paperbacks
Summary take from Goodreads:
Kids who get called the worst names oftentimes find each other. That's how it was with us. Skeezie Tookis and Addie Carle and Joe Bunch and me. We call ourselves the Gang of Five, but there are only four of us. We do it to keep people on their toes. Make 'em wonder. Or maybe we do it because we figure that there's one more kid out there who's going to need a gang to be a part of. A misfit, like us.
Skeezie, Addie, Joe, and Bobby -- they've been friends forever. They laugh together, have lunch together, and get together once a week at the Candy Kitchen to eat ice cream and talk about important issues. Life isn't always fair, but at least they have each other -- and all they really want to do is survive the seventh grade.
That turns out to be more of a challenge than any of them had anticipated. Starting with Addie's refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance and her insistence on creating a new political party to run for student council, the Gang of Five is in for the ride of their lives. Along the way they will learn about politics and popularity, love and loss, and what it means to be a misfit. After years of getting by, they are given the chance to stand up and be seen -- not as the one-word jokes their classmates have tried to reduce them to, but as the full, complicated human beings they are just beginning to discover they truly are.
I have to admit, the timing of this book threw me off in a way that I am not sure I ever recovered from. Despite being published in 1991, the 12-yr-olds in the novel seem to be from the late sixties or early seventies. It is never really mentioned. Between the names being of a bygone era (Skeezie?!), the fight for “other political parties”, and the main character, Skip, working as a tie salesman (heck, even being gainfully employed at 12), it just felt off. In 1991, I was turning 11 years old, and my life was consumed with Nintendo, not soda shops.
Despite the disconnect over the true setting of the novel, it does tackle some heavy topics that would be appropriate for a 4th – 6th grader. Skip is overweight and his mom has passed away. Skeezie is a social pariah and that kid who everyone thinks is strange. Addie is overbearing and self-righteous, but also much more intelligent than her peers. Joe (SPOILER ALERT?) is dealing with being gay in a small town setting. Bullying and racism are other recurrent themes through the novel.
On the whole, I expected the author of the much-celebrated “Bunnicula” series to do a better job. This truly is meant for younger eyes than mine, though chapter 26 of the book is actually quite fantastic. I think this would be a great read for kids in late elementary school, especially those that feel like outcasts. However, that comes with a warning that this book does feel dated (no mention of the internet, cell phones, facebook, or video games), so I am not sure how much a kid would relate to the characters. I think it could be used as a talking point between parents who are unsure how to bring up delicate topics, and their kids.